The thing about creativity is that it doesn’t wait until it’s convenient. As a writer, I’ve always had visions of taking myself off to a villa in Tuscany (surrounded by lavender fields), where I’d live in solitude for a few months and complete my bestselling novel. There’d be peace and time to write, and no distractions.
But that’s not how it works.
That’s why last week I found myself frantically typing out the first page of my novel, with the sound of my daughter’s recorder echoing in one ear, and the alto of my husband’s voice on a Zoom call in the other ear. The washing machine was also screaming in that high-pitched-spin-cycle way, and I was kneeling on my bedroom floor with the computer on the bed, as the one chair in the room (by the window) was in full sun and I couldn’t see my screen.
And that’s when I was reminded that creativity often waits for times of crises to tap you on the shoulder and say hello. Not that the domestic scenes I describe are times of crises, but rather that the whole damn year has been a crisis, and we’ve been living in crisis-mode – yet I’ve never felt quite so creative.
The last time I had a creative surge like this was when my mom died. Writing became a way of processing turbulent emotions, just as it is now I suppose. But whereas 2010 was heavy and dark, like a wet crow, or a shovelful of earth, 2020 is crazier and a bit all over the place. There are rainbows popping out, but also the occasional storm. Sunlight streaming down the one instant, howling wind the next. Weeping, as well as joy. It’s a rollercoaster, as so many people have said. But the most creative rollercoaster I’ve been on in a while.
In Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic she describes how ideas come knocking in a mystical way: “When an idea thinks it has found somebody – say, you – who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention.” Listen, I’m no Liz Gilbert, but over the past few months I have certainly found this to be true. An idea will appear at my shoulder, sitting like a bird alighting on a branch, just for a second. This will either be a concept, or a few phrases, or some characters and a story, and the idea will knock repeatedly at my brain in order to get my attention.
Gilbert describes how, if you don’t use these ideas and bring them forth into the universe, they simply move right along and go and try visit somebody else. This makes sense to me, in a way that I’m sure most scientific people would scoff at. But scoff right away, because I’m letting the ideas in when they come and visit me. I’m saying hi to the birds.
That’s why I’ve been penning poems (one featured above, but follow me on Instagram for the others). I’ve been submitting short stories to competitions. Scribbling down ideas for my novel as they come to me. The initial concept for my book that I’ve been vaguely working on over the past few years has been binned, because this latest idea is much stronger, and more original.
I’m also not saying that this is a terribly comfortable feeling either. It’s not exactly peaceful having ideas flying around your head. So I try and balance it with slowing down as often as possible. Big breaths. Yoga. Lying very still and listening to a beautiful song. Running on the mountain, trying not to trip over roots, with my brain intensely focused on the way my foot hits the earth.
Us artists must make hay while the sun shines, though. Because ideas are not always as abundant.